Speech from Willie Rennie MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, at the Scottish Parliament on privacy and the state.
*Check against delivery*
Liberals in all political parties and none have a healthy suspicion of governments’ voracious appetite for information on us - and on every individual. Information is a powerful tool and used in the right way can help us but if misused can be intrusive and sometimes even dangerous.
The purpose of today is to allow this parliament to openly debate the complex issues that surround this important matter.It is our hope that this will not be the only debate on this important topic and that all members of this parliament will have future opportunities to consider primary legislation to ensure effective scrutiny of any changes.
Unfortunately it is the government's current intention to restrict debate to one committee.
So all this motion seeks is that simple aim. That is to put any changes into primary legislation.
It is not to determine whether any changes would be acceptable or otherwise, whether they amount to an identity card system or not.
I only seek support for primary legislation if these proposals are to advance.
Let me explain why this should be the case.
The first reason is scale. The proposal has the potential to cover 120 organisations across the public sector. This matters because the current diffuse storage of information has an inbuilt protection from crime and misuse that would be lost with one super database shared a crossed the public sector.
We know the problem with putting all your eggs in the one basket or putting all your savings in the one bank or business. We should be cautious when the government asks us to do the same now.
The second reason is the Unique Citizen Reference Number. The persistent identifier as it is often called.
Yes, we do have a unique number at present but it is not unique across the public sector.
To allow all organisations to share that number means we move from having a series of numbers to one, single, universal number. It leaves open the possibility that information can be searched, profiled and mined.
The Scottish Government’s own principles for identity management, published by John Swinney just last year states this in section 4.6.
“If a public service organisation needs to link personal information from different systems and databases (internally or between organisations), it should avoid sharing persistent identifiers;”
So these proposals breach John Swinney’s own principles.
Moving onto the third reason.
The current system operates on an opt in basis whereas this new approach means that everyone's address will automatically be included through the transfer of the Community Health Index Postcode into the NHS Central Registry.
So there will be no consent required for your full details to appear on this universal database.
By the virtue of simply being born your details could be accessible by Quality Meat Scotland or even the Botanic Gardens.
We would not be in control of our own information.
I have set out three reasons why these plans are flawed: Scale, unique number and consent. There are others but these should be sufficient to cause at least some doubt in the minds of SNP members today.
I am pleased that the Conservatives, Labour and Greens agree with our concerns.
I would be interested in the opinions of the independents.
For those who are considering backing the Government’s amendment I would urge them to reflect carefully.
If there is even a scintilla of doubt about what the Government is proposing they should vote for our motion.
To vote with the Government is giving them permission to proceed with limited, inadequate scrutiny.
The Scottish Government dispute the claim made that this is a precursor to an ID card.
The problem is this.
If there is an all-encompassing single database with one single number for each individual, with no consent required, then it is simple to produce a card with that number and stick a picture on it too.
I think everyone would recognise that as an ID card.
We may not be there yet but we are creeping towards that destination.
If SNP members have any doubt they should vote with us today.
I am grateful to the Open Rights Group and No2ID for the advice and support they have provided to inform this debate.
They have very real concerns.
The British Medical Association have expressed concern about the relationship between the NHS database and tax collection fearing that it may drive patients away.
The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations want the Government to think again.
But it was the submission from UK Information Commissioner's Office that caused greatest alarm.
He spoke of breaching European and British data protection laws, creeping towards an ID card system and the lack of reason and necessity with the Government's plans.
So members don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to the other voices. Ignoring the advice of the independent Information Commissioner would be unwise for any member of any parliament.
Now, very few are against cards that identify us. We need forms of identification to conduct our daily business.
Our parliamentary card is an ID card. My driving license, bank card, Carnegie Harriers membership card. They are all forms of identification and information.
But each one has a different number and each is stored on different databases. So it is not identification I oppose it is the super ID database that concerns me.
I accept that government needs methods to authenticate that a person is who she says she is. It prevents fraud and ensures people get what they are entitled too.
But privacy campaigners have been working with the UK Government on how this can be done safely and efficiently.
We are not at the end of the road – we have other options.
The Cabinet Office identity assurance scheme uses third party organisations to confirm your identity.
It authenticates the accuracy of information under strict conditions.
No central database. No unique number. And every citizen can choose which organisation will be responsible for verifying their identity and who will be able to seek such verification. It is at the private beta stage.
It is a modern, federated system that protects unlike the old fashioned, monolithic, clunky, costly super database that this government proposes.
I want to conclude on a couple of important principles.
The first is that organisations should seek to avoid creating large centralised databases of people’s personal information.
The second is that if a public service organisation needs to link personal information from different systems and databases, it should avoid sharing persistent identifiers.
My message today is simple. If members support the Government’s amendment they are voting to limit the scrutiny these proposals will receive. If members have doubts they should express that doubt by supporting my motion.
Members don’t have to agree with everything I have said, they may reject some of the arguments made by privacy campaigners, they may not even accept all the points made by the UK Information Commissioner.
But if members have any doubts they should vote for our motion today.